Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Folly of Pandemic Censorship

By Matt Taibbi

As the latest anti-Substack campaign shows, more and more people are forgetting why free speech works.

Earlier this week, in the latest in a series of scolding campaigns, a Britain-based group called the Center for Countering Digital Hate gave a sneak peek at a research report on Substack to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Both outlets came out with their scare pieces this morning. From The Guardian:

A group of vaccine-skeptic writers are generating revenues of at least $2.5m (£1.85m) a year from publishing newsletters for tens of thousands of followers on the online publishing platform Substack, according to new research…

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH, said companies like Substack were under “no obligation” to amplify vaccine skepticism and make money from it. “They could just say no…”

The Post, citing “some misinformation experts say” — the pandemic version of “people familiar with the matter” — added:

These newer platforms cater to subscribers who seek out specific content that accommodates their viewpoints — potentially making the services less responsible for spreading harmful views, some misinformation experts say.

If these stories sound familiar, it’s because this same Center for Countering Digital Hate two years ago tried to pull the same stunt with The Federalist, using NBC to ask Google to crack down on them. Humorously, and typically — this happens a lot with these stories — that effort ended in fiasco. The piece NBC ended up writing boasting of the success of its “Verification Unit” in getting the site demonetized, entitled, “Google bans two websites from its ad platform over protest articles,” turned out to itself be misinformation. The Federalist was never banned, only warned, and the issue was its comments section, not its articles. Google had to issue a statement:

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